Clarity for Lawyers – the book

The Law Society of England and Wales first published this textbook in 1990. The third edition (2017) was co-written by Daphne Perry of ClarifyNow. View extracts or buy a copy.

“A book on clear drafting for lawyers is to be welcomed, and a good book on the topic is to be greatly welcomed. Mark Adler and Daphne Perry have written a good book on the topic, and it is a pleasure to write this foreword to the third edition. The book is engagingly written and well structured. Many parts of the book can be read through almost as much for pleasure as for instruction, as they can be regarded as a collection of anecdotes or cautionary tales. That is because the authors very sensibly realise that by far the best way to make their point is by way of examples. Finally, I would venture to suggest that anyone who is engaged in communication, whether in writing or by word of mouth, could profit from reading this book.”
Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court
August 2017

Articles on legal writing skills and plain English

Writing wrongs: what clients want from their lawyers’ letters and ways to deliver, focusing on wills and probate services.  Published in PS Magazine, the Law Society’s journal for private client solicitors in England and Wales, in February 2019.

5 writing habits every lawyer needs: A taste of our approach to changing writing habits. Published by the Law Society of England and Wales in April 2018. One of the most viewed blogs on the Law Society’s website.

Why traditional legal terms are costing your business: Suggesting reasons and a practical approach to reduce and simplify contract terms. First published by Practical Law UK In-house in March 2016. Access by Practical Law subscription or free trial.

Decision-writing for the Local Government Ombudsman (UK): case study of a two-year firmwide transformation of writing style. Presented at the PLAIN conference in September 2015.

Slimming for Skeletons: how and why to make a fleshy skeleton argument more appealing to the judge. Counsel magazine, August 2013.

Software Review: StyleWriter v4: how this Word add-in helps you edit text and manage writers. Computers & Law Magazine, June 2010. (StyleWriter v 4 is still the latest version).

Plain language: saving time and money: how and why to use plain English in a law firm. Published by Practical Law in June 2008; available to subscribers or by free trial access.

What is indirect and consequential loss? Contracting Excellence Journal, 2018. Reports on a survey of lawyers and contract managers, asking how they understand an exclusion of “indirect and consequential loss”. In the top ten articles most popular with Contracting Excellence Journal readers, in 2019. A shorter version is available to New Law Journal subscribers: Consequential loss: what the reasonable businessperson really thinks.

Talking our language Short article on the plain English movement in the UK since 1983 and Clarity, the international association for plain language in the law, Law Society Gazette, 2014.

Might doctors follow lawyers in plain English campaign? British Medical Journal 2013.

User-Friendly Expert Reports, Spring 2011 Expert Witness Institute Newsletter pages 1-2 (copy available on request). Six messages for drafting an expert witness report, gathered from what judges have said and written.

The right direction, 2011 Counsel Magazine pages 34 to 36. Should trial judges abandon legal language in their speeches or are written questions to the jury the answer?

Recommended resources from other organisations and writers

  • Getting the structure right – process, paradigm and persistence by Christopher Balmford [1999] Clarity 14. This article explains the 4-step writing process, an excellent approach to any writing task, and how to use headings to improve structure.
  • Oxford Guide to Plain English by Martin Cutts (2013). Written for the general public, not for law or business, but the skills are transferable to all documents. A lawyer who followed the advice in this book would be one of the best writers in the profession.
  • Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (2016). Excellent reference book on grammar and usage, well organised and accessible, recommended for writers whose first language is not English.
  • Really Simple English Grammar by Carolyn Humphries (2003). For the many people whose first language is English but were never taught grammar or punctuation.
  • Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please by Joseph Kimble (2008). Case studies showing how clarifying English has saved money and pleased judges.
  • Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage by Bryan Garner (2011). An excellent guide to legal words and phrases, full of actual examples and sensible discussion. Discusses both American and English uses.
  • Clarity, the international organisation for plain legal language. Membership costs US$ 50 a year. Benefits include the excellent Journal and free or reduced admission to conferences and local (mainly London) meetings.
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